Understanding Proper EnglishbyThe Wanderer©
Understand Proper English Like What I talk
Seventh revision. Includes some suggestions and requests by readers from all over the place.
More demented ravings by The Wanderer (with some help from readers and friends).
A note and disclaimer by The Wanderer.
The original synopsis for this document, it plainly said "English as The Wanderer writes it" if you don't like that, "Bollocks!" I've been kicking around this country for over sixty years now. If a reader hasn't come across the words being used in the same context, there ain't much that I can do about it. This originally was a list of words and phrases that I've come into contact with over the years and their use as I understand them. If you don't like my list, then write your own bleeding one. On the other hand there are many words and phrases I've haven't heard and I'm happy to add them if you'd like to send them to me
This is not and does not claim to be a complete list of English colloquial words and phrases. It is just a list of them that I have commonly come across or might use in my stories and that I'm have been made aware that some folks might not be familiar with and have difficulty understanding. Plus there are some words and information that I've added purely for interest value.
If you find you have trouble understanding something in one of my tales, you could well find the answer here. If you don't, please feel free to drop me a line and I will try to explain it to you, then I can add it to this list.
However, I must point out there are many variations in the use and meaning of the words in different parts of the UK. I'll ask my fellow countrymen to help me here, if they spot any, what they consider inconsistencies in the list; please let me know what the word commonly means where you live and then I can add that to the list.
To make life easy, please mark all emails on this subject "Do What?"
Colloquial words in the UK, can take on different meanings depending on the context, your location and/or whose company they are used in. I've already mentioned about different meanings in different parts of the UK. Please don't blame me if you use the wrong word in the wrong way or part of the country and find yourself in a compromising situation.
As an example, I'll take the word "Prat" or "Pratt". (Both spellings are in common use.)
"Prat" is a word you wouldn't normally use when the vicar comes to tea. But it can be used in mixed company where it should normally be taken to mean "A foolish person".
However when used amongst the boys, maybe in anger down at the pub or in the workplace, it can also mean the backside or buttocks.
To try to explain further, if a friend does something silly or stupid, you can call him a Prat - often phrased "You silly Prat!" (Preferably with a smile on your face). You are in effect calling him a fool, and he'll generally laugh with you.
However if you call somebody a Prat in an argument or because you don't like them. Then you are, in effect, calling them an arsehole. Any resultant punch-up is your own responsibility, not mine!
A word about rhyming slang. This is attributed to having been created by Cockney's in East London. But the same idea can often be found in use all over the country.
In Cockney rhyming slang, usually only the one part (normally the first, but not always) of the rhyme is used. This is a useful way to tell whether someone is "putting it on", and it is not his/her usual form of speech. i.e. if someone was referring to a new suit they might say "How'd you like the whistle?" They should definitely not say, "Do you like my new Whistle and Flute?
I have included some of the rhyming slang that some members of my family - who were not Cockneys by the way - used in their normal speech whilst I was growing up. Most of these will, on occasions, still be heard and understood in nearly all of Southeast England. I'm not too sure about the rest of the UK; but to my knowledge, I have normally been understood.
Just a little note about grammar! I often get comments on some of the grammar in my tales of woe. Well, I'll just say that normally my stories are told in the first person and I try to write as people think and talk. In your thoughts and when you speak, you don't think and talk in proper grammatical English. Well, I don't and I'm afraid I've never come across anyone who actually does. I'm not trying to write bloody English textbooks here!
And one further point. English English and American English are not spelt the same. Actually if it comes down to brass tacks we use a slightly different alphabet. We have Z pronounced zed, whereas over the pond, I'm pretty sure they have a Z pronounced zee! It might not sound like much but it does make a difference.
There are quite a few, sometimes subtle and sometimes not so subtle differences between British and American spelling that show-up with regularity. Especially for me, because both of the editors who have kindly accepted the unenviable task of reading through my stories to try to make some sense of them, come from the other side of the pond. Actually I think they are both closet masochists, but don't let on that I told you.
English dictionaries differentiate between colloquial English, slang and coarse slang. Quite a lot of what can be found bellow can be considered as belonging to the later definition.
Abbreviations - Police officer ranks. PC - Police Constable, DC - Detective Constable, DS - Detective Sergeant, DI - Detective Inspector, DCI - Detective Chief Inspector. There are more but you get the general idea. Also in the past, I think that many of them could be prefixed by a "W", to denote a female police officer, political correctness and women's lib have made the distinction obsolete.
A lady of the night -- A Prostitute
A Monkey -- £500
A Pony -- £25
A runner -- (he did a runner) -- Run away from a situation or responsibilities.
A4 -- Standard European paper size as used in most offices.
AC/DC -- Bisexual.
Across the pond -- the other side of the Atlantic
Affray -- A breach of the peace by fighting or rioting in public. Catchall offence, can be used by the British police to arrest anybody whose actions could be construed to instil fear in the general public.
Antipodes -- Australia and New Zealand
Any Bottle -- Any good
Artic (articulated lorry) -- A lorry consisting of two or more sections connected by a flexible joint. (In North America a semi-trailer).
Are you still with us? -- Are you understanding what (1) we are saying? (2) is going on.
At her majesty's pleasure -- In prison
Ay-Up -- Used when attracting someone's attention.
Back door (on the road) -- Someone travelling behind you, that you are reporting road conditions to or the presence of the police approaching from the rear. Usually by CB radio.
Ball and chain -- The wife
Bedlam -- A scene of uproar and confusion; a madhouse; an asylum. (From the Victorian mental "Hospital of St Mary of Bethlehem" in Lambeth London. Now the Imperial War Museum.) [Out of interest my family routes are in Lambeth]
Boat race (The Boat Race) -- Traditional yearly race between Oxford and Cambridge university rowing eight's held over a course on the river Thames in London. Considered to be the toughest race of its kind.
Before you can say Jack Robinson. -- Something happening extremely quickly
Between you, me and the gatepost. -- Keep this to yourself.
Blimey -- Expressing surprise or alarm.
Blew-out -- Something that was planned and then cancelled
Bloomin -- I haven't got the foggiest idea, I can never recall anyone ever using the word, except characters pretending to be English in the movies. I can only assume they thought it up to replace the blasphemies in common use.
Boffin -- scientist or technician, originally a person engaged in scientific (esp. military) research. Now is commonly understood to mane any scientist or technician
Bollocks -- Testicles, also a term of frustration or insult. Hey, just heard that Wilma Flintstone used the word in one of the Flintstones cartoons, apparently there was a little bit of strife over it.
Bonnet (in reference to automobiles) -- Engine cover (in North America, the hood)
Bottle/d out -- Chicken/ed out.
Boot (in reference to automobiles) -- luggage compartment (in North America, the trunk)
Bottoms up! -- Cheers
Brass tacks -- actual details; real business (get down to brass tacks).
Brief (1) (My Brief) -- Solicitor or barrister representing the person talking. Attorney or lawyer in U.S.
Brief (2) -- Legal document allowing the holder to undertake his profession i.e. a truck or bus drivers licence.
Bristols (Bristol City's) -- Breasts; tits (rhyming slang)
Bristol fashion -- All ship shape and Bristol fashion is/was a nautical term meaning "All ready to put to sea". Nowadays it is taken to mean everything is prepared and ready, as it should be.
BT -- British Telecom the main landline telephone service supplier in the UK. Well they supply and maintain the exchanges lines etc.
Bullshit -- I believe what you just said is untrue. (You know, what politicians talk.)
Bullshitter -- Someone who talks bullshit (tells lies) to make themselves appear what they are not. (Bloody hell politicians again!)
Bungalow -- Single storeyed (note spelling) house
Chinese box (in reference to automobiles, trucks etc.) -- Awkward or unusual gearbox gate. (Layout of gears on selector.)
Clean ticket/brief/licence -- Driver licence without any penalty points. See points.
Cobblers -- nonsense. Don't talk cobblers.
Cockney -- A native of East London, born within sound of Bow Bells. It can be considered an extreme insult to call other Londoners Cockneys, both to them and to true Cockneys. If you don't know a person's origin, don't use the name.
Colonial cousin -- In theory any person who is a citizen of one of GB's current or former colonies. In practice, it mostly appears to be reserved to refer to citizens of the USA. Canadians for example are often referred to as Colonial Brothers/Sisters. Or (but less common) our brothers and sisters from across the pond.
Cor -- Expressing surprise, excitement, etc. (useable in polite company)
Cor Blimey -- Expressing surprise, excitement, etc. (useable in a little less polite company)
Could I have that in writing? -- Someone has made a compliment or said something flattering about the speaker.
Daisy's (Daisy roots) -- Boots (rhyming slang)
Didicoi -- A gypsy or itinerant tinker.
Derv -- Diesel fuel (from Diesel Engine Road Vehicle)
Ding-dong -- 1. An intense argument or fight. 2. A riotous party.
Dodgy -- Illegal, awkward, unreliable, tricky.
Doolally -- Loose one's cool, get excited or angry very vocally
Do what? -- I don't understand what (1) you are talking about (2) you want me to do.
Don't get out of your pram -- Don't lose your temper or get annoyed
Drekly -- Cornish word, derived from directly with the meaning of immediately. But tempered by the laid-back attitude of the Cornish people. When someone says they will do something Drekly, it will be done with their sense of urgency, not yours!
Duff -- worthless, counterfeit, useless, broken.
Duffed-up -- Beaten-up.
Duffer -- an inefficient, useless, or stupid person. Quite often an old person, "old duffer". A bit like me really!
Eff / Effing -- A slightly less offensive replacement for Fuck and Fucking.
Emmett -- Non-local person, (West Country) normally applies to holidaymakers.
Falling down water -- Alcoholic drink, normally beer, ale or lager
Fanny -- Generally the buttocks. Caution: in many parts of the UK, it's used to refer to the female genitalia.
Feel one's ears burning. -- Believe someone is talking about you behind your back.
Flat -- A set of rooms, usually on one floor, used as a residence.
For all I know. -- I have no knowledge on the subject. This statement is normally followed by an unlikely explanation of what has just happened.
For what its worth. -- The speaker is not sure whether their opinion is important to you, but they are going to give it to you anyway.
Frog -- French person
Front -- Impudence; insolently disrespectful; impertinent. He/she's got some front!
Front door (on the road) -- Someone travelling ahead of you reporting back to you on road conditions etc. or the presence of the police. Usually by CB radio.
Fuddy-duddy -- old-fashioned or quaintly fussy person.
Fuzz the police or can refer to the hair around the genitals. Hence the expression "grabbed by the fuzz can mean being arrested, Or something much more painful
Get back into your pram -- You've lost your temper. Get your emotions under control.
Get cracking! -- Move quickly
Git -- A silly or contemptible person.
Gift of the gab -- the facility of speaking eloquently or profusely. Normally someone with the gift of the gab will talk you out of your money, or almost any woman into bed.
Glove box (in reference to automobiles) -- Locker built into a cars dashboard usually with a cover flap on it.
Go faster stripes -- The assortment of bolt on goodies that are fitted to standard production cars to make them look like they are something they aren't, like rally or up-rated cars. See Poser.
Go juice -- Petrol or diesel fuel
Go on, I'll buy it! -- I don't know the answer - I might believe what you are telling me.
Goolies -- The testicles
Goose -- Grope, poke or pinch someone's bottom. Normally unwelcome.
Governor (Guv or Guv-na) -- The Licensee of a Public House or Bar. In work, the boss
Grog -- Alcoholic spirit watered down. Originally the rum ration that was issued to the Royal Navy seamen.
Guinea -- Sum of money equal to 21 old British shillings (now £1.05) was often used in auctions and by the legal profession. Yes, it was a con to make the headline price look less, 20gns = £21.
Gulper -- Gulp of a RN sailors rum ration given to another sailor in return for a favour.
Hard-shoulder (on the road) -- carriageway along side a motorway for use in emergency's only.
HMG -- Her Majesty's Government
Head case -- see Nutter
Heath Robinson -- Absurdly ingenious and impracticable in design or construction. That quite often, but not always, works!
Hello, hello, hello! -- An expression supposedly used by English policemen. That 'sort' disappeared donkeys' years ago.
Here we go again. -- A repeat of a usually unpleasant experience is about to start.
Hoi polloi -- in use "the hoi polloi" (note, no caps) 1. the masses; the common people. 2. the majority.
Hood (in reference to automobiles) -- Folding canvas roof on a convertible or sports car.
Hooray Henry -- (note, capital letters are used) a rich ineffectual young man, esp. one who is fashionable, extroverted, and conventional. Although it's handy if you went to the right public school, and mummy or daddy has a few bob in the bank (its not actually necessary for them to pay their bills), or at least one of them has some spurious claim to a title of some kind. The most important prerequisites to becoming a Hooray Henry appear to be. A. speaking with a plum in your mouth (or at least trying too). B. Looking down on anyone who actually does a job of work with there hands for a living. C. And - most importantly - ensuring that everyone in whatever establishment you are in at the time, knows that they/he have arrived. The normally method of achieving this is by speaking - not shouting - as loudly as humanly possible.
How come…? -- Why was that?
Hump (1) -- Have sexual intercourse with.
Hump (2) -- A fit of depression or vexation. The 'h' is often dropped in pronunciation i.e. "He's got the ump!"
I didn't get/come off the boat yesterday! -- You're not fooling me, I'm not that dumb.
I wasn't born yesterday. -- That's bullshit, don't take me for a fool!
I've got a bone to pick with you! -- There's something I'm not happy about, and I believe you are responsible.
Jack Robinson -- Before you can say "Jack Robinson" is a way of expressing immediacy; something will be done straight away. There is one suggested origin involving the habit of an eccentric gentleman who was renowned for his constant change of mind. He often abandoned a social call and you had to be quick to catch Jack Robinson. This is the origin given in 1811. (ref: http://www.phrases.org.uk).
Jam Sandwich -- Police car. Derives from police cars had an orange stripe around them; English police cars tend to have yellow and blue reflective panels nowadays.
JCB -- A type of mechanical excavator with a shovel at the front and a digging arm at the rear. Named after J. C. Bamford, the original makers. Although made by other manufacturers as well, JCB appears to have become the generic name.
Jungle juice -- Alcoholic beverage, normally a spirit or cocktail
Karzi -- Lavatory, if being specific, the pan.
Keep schtum -- Keep your mouth shut and tell no one
Keep your shirt on! -- Don't lose your temper or get annoyed
Keep your hair on! -- Don't lose your temper or get annoyed
Kosher -- Legal. Everything is as it should be.
kibosh (also kybosh) -- "put the kibosh on" put an end to; finally dispose of. (also can mean "nonsense", but I've never come across it being used that way).
Knackered -- Sometimes pronounced "k-nackered", extremely tired after working hard or a strenuous physical workout. "He's knackered himself."
Knackers -- The testicles.
Knickers -- Ladies panties.
Lady Muck -- Woman with delusions of grandeur.
Laid-back -- Relaxed, unbothered, easygoing.
Lash-up -- A makeshift or improvised structure or arrangement.
Lay/laid -- Have/had sexual intercourse.
Left hooker (in reference to automobiles) -- Left hand drive vehicle.
Leg it -- Run for it
Leg-less -- inebriated, pissed as a newt.
Let the cat out of the bag. -- Divulge a secret
Like Fuck -- I'm not going to accept that.
Lively -- Run for it
Loo -- Toilet
Look lively -- Be alert and/or move quickly
Look Sharp! -- Be alert and/or move quickly
Lord Muck -- Man with delusions of grandeur
Make it snappy! -- Hurry up
Make yourself scarce -- Vacate the immediate area as soon and as quickly as possible
Maisonette -- A part of a house, block of flats, etc., forming separate living accommodations, usually having a separate entrance accessible from outside the building on ground level. If they have a communal entrance they are usually (but not always) termed as flats.
Moniker -- Name
MT -- empty. Normally written on the outside of closed containers.
Mum's the word! -- This is a secrete tell no one
My better half. -- My spouse
Nature calls. -- I need to go to the lavatory.
Navvy -- A labourer employed in building or excavating roads, canals, etc. Generally Irish nowadays, and it is/was often used as a generic term for Irish building workers who were famed for getting the job done.
Nice one --(or more often "Nice one Son!") a congratulation for a job well done. Comes from a football supporter's chant.